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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Typically, Jenna’s mobile phone rang downstairs just as she had sunk down into a hot, foaming bath. She spent all of two seconds debating whether to answer it, decided that if the call was important enough they’d ring back, and ducked her head under the water. When she emerged, the cuckoo call had stopped, and she subsided back into the foam with a sigh of pleasure. After a busy day, it was wonderful just to lose herself in the warmth and perfume of the very expensive bath milk that Saskia had bought her for Christmas.

Of course, she found herself unable to relax for long. Was Rosie trying to ring her? She’d been due to go back to university today – perhaps something had gone wrong, or she’d left something vital behind? Or it could be the twins from Australia, or even Rick, phoning from New York to tell her that it’d all been a terrible mistake.

Too late for that, sunshine, Jenna thought. A moment of reflection informed her that by far the most likely person to be phoning her at eight o’clock in the evening would be her mother, and she didn’t feel particularly inclined to answer the call – not after the difficult conversation she’d had with Patricia on New Year’s Day.

Needless to say, her mother had taken umbrage – which, Rick had once commented, she took like other people took paracetamol – at Jenna’s failure to phone and wish her a happy New Year, and spent some time expressing her feelings of hurt and disappointment. She was also, it transpired, extremely hurt and disappointed that the twins had not thought fit to get in touch, had not contacted her, in fact, since a brief message on a postcard back in November. In vain Jenna had explained to her about their road trip, and the difficulties of communication in the outback, exacerbated by Patricia’s lack of computer access. She had a mobile phone, though, so texting would be possible, and Jenna, trying to mollify her mother, had assured her that she’d ask the boys to keep in touch more regularly. “They’re doing a blog about their travels – “

“A what? A blog?”

“A weblog. Like a diary, but online. They’ve put several pages up already, with photos. You know, Mum, you really ought to join the digital age. They must do courses for Silver Surfers at your library. Then you could keep in touch not only with the boys, but with me and Rosie too.” Though, she thought wryly, she couldn’t think of a faster way to get herself, not to mention her offspring, off Facebook and Twitter than for Patricia to get on it.

“I don’t think so, Jennifer,” said her mother repressively. “I’ve heard such stories – you never know what you’re getting into. Poor Gloria Davis was sent some truly dreadful pictures out of the blue, quite disgusting. And Joan Hatton answered the phone to a very well-spoken gentleman who said he was from Microsoft, whoever they are, and the next thing she knew, her bank account had been emptied. I shall stick to the old ways, they’re much safer. A mobile phone is quite enough for me.”

Eventually, Jenna had mollified her by repeating her invitation to stay the following week, and Patricia had accepted in a very begrudging manner. “Well, of course I will, Jennifer dear, but I have to say it won’t be quite the same ...”

Thinking to switch the conversation to matters less contentious, Jenna had then told her mother about some of her genealogical discoveries. It had proved another mistake. “Well,” Patricia had said, her disapproval coming loud and clear along nearly a hundred miles of phone line, “I really don’t know why you feel you have to do that, Jennifer. Whatever is the point?”

“I thought I’d trace the history of the casket back, if I could. And it’s very interesting. Tell me, Mum, can you remember anything about your grandmother? Her name was Winifred Emily Merelina Goodwin, née Durrant, and she died in 1953, when you must have been about twelve.”

“Vaguely.” Patricia sounded dismissive. “She had a shop in Leyton. It was very small and dark.”

“You don’t know where the Merelina came from? If it was a family name, for instance?”

“Oh, I don’t think so, Jennifer dear. Her mother probably made it up. It sounds like that sort of name. Now, is Rosie there? I would very much like to wish her a happy New Year.”

She beckoned her daughter over, and handed her the phone. As Rosie began a stilted conversation with her grandmother, Jenna wished with all her heart that her relationship with Patricia could be different. Why did her mother find it so impossible to be positive about things? Why could she never summon enthusiasm or interest or even liking for the people and things that Jenna herself liked? It was as if Jenna, having disappointed her early in life, was incapable of doing anything right thereafter. She viewed the prospect of a whole unadulterated week in her company with despondency. Her mother would find fault with everything, spend her time making snide remarks, and lay on the emotional blackmail with a trowel.

“Still, it’s only a week, what’s that in the great scheme of things?” she’d said to Saskia as her friend packed for the return to St. Albans and, as she put it, ‘civilization’. “I shall just have to keep calm and fantasise about poisoning her.”

“A bit drastic, darling, can’t you just push her into a dyke and pretend she slipped?”

“Oh, you won’t get Mum anywhere near a dyke, she doesn’t do country walking.”

“Well, look on the bright side, it’s too far for her just to pop in for a cup of tea unannounced.”

“There is that.” Jenna grinned as Artemis pounced briskly on the rolled up pair of tights that Saskia was about to put in her case. “Watch it, she’ll shred those if you’re not careful.”

“Little vandal! Those cost me twenty quid!” Saskia scooped up the kitten before she could do any more damage, and set her down on the floor. “I should unfriend whoever gave you those feline fiends, darling, they’re nothing but trouble.”

“As if! They’re the best Christmas present I’ve ever had, and they’ll be such good company once everyone’s gone.”

“You’ll be OK,” said Saskia, pausing and fixing Jenna with a suddenly serious expression on her face. “You know you will. You’re much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Anyway, with all those unattached men sniffing round, you won’t be on your own for long.”

“Don’t be daft! What unattached men?”

“The ones who were at the party, darling. That professor was pretty hot, I thought. For his age. And he’s an old flame.”

“He’s the same age as me, I’ll have you know. And he may not be unattached,” said Jenna, feeling a betraying flush starting somewhere around her neck. “I honestly don’t know. All I know is that he’s got at least one ex-wife, and those two kids.”

“Well, you could do a lot worse.”

“Look, Sass, I’ve told you, I don’t want another man in my life! Not yet, anyway – and certainly not Jon. I couldn’t ever trust him.”

“Don’t be so unforgiving, darling! That was twenty-five years ago. People do change, you know.”

Do they? Jenna wondered now. Do they really? She knew that underneath all the sensible teacher-wife-and-mother layers she’d grown during her marriage, the shy, sensitive geek girl, interested in books and history and art, still lurked. Jon, she felt certain, remained at heart that self-confident, devious young man who had felt such a sense of entitlement that he’d worked his way through all the women in his house with scant regard to their feelings or anything else. Jules’s furious words echoed down the decades. “He just doesn’t get it, does he? You shouldn’t shit on your own doorstep.”

“Or there’s that medic,” Saskia had continued, warming to her theme. “Very tasty.”

“He spent most of his time talking to you, not me. Anyway, he’s a bit young for me, isn’t he?”

“Nothing wrong with being a cougar, darling, as I should know. But I have to say that he seemed a lot more interested in you than me. I rather think, between you and me and the kittens, that I scared the pants off him.”

Marcus? He’s served in Afghanistan.”

“Oh, I’m clearly much more frightening than any Taliban fighter, darling. But I think you could do a lot worse than him.”

“I hardly know him! I’ve only met him twice, and the first time Ruth’s bloody dog showered him with muddy river water and he told me off for letting him chase the birds.”

“Well, he’s obviously rather keen on you, so my advice is, if he phones you up and asks you out, don’t say no.”

“Oh, Sass!” Jenna hadn’t known whether to laugh, cry, or give her friend a good shake. “How many times do I have to say it? I don’t want another man. I’m not ready for another man. I want to be on my own, be independent, cope with my new life, I just want to learn to be me again! In a year or two, OK, I might start thinking about someone else, but just for now can you let it rest? Please? It’s all just too raw and hurtful at the moment.”

“It’s all right, darling.” Saskia had hugged her warmly. “Don’t worry, I’ll back off. But just you remember, whenever you need a friend you just have to ask, day or night, and I’ll be there. No matter what.”

“I know. And I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done, you’ve been an absolute star over the past few months.”

“That’s what friends are for, darling. Now we really do have to go, or it’ll be midnight before we get home, and I’m due at the shop first thing tomorrow morning. I know Shelley’s more than capable, but I still can’t help wondering what I’m going to find.”

The cottage had seemed very quiet without her and the girls. They’d all cleared up the party debris earlier in the day, despite feeling distinctly hungover, and then gone for a brisk windswept walk up to the castle, before a lunch of bread and soup, and then the packing and goodbyes. Rosie had asked if she could go back to St. Albans with them, stay until the weekend and then go on to Norwich, and Jenna, guiltily aware that her daughter must miss her friends, had cheerfully agreed. It meant that her solitary days would begin a little earlier than she’d anticipated, but she knew they had to start sooner or later, and, buoyed up by Saskia’s confidence in her, she knew she would cope.

And so it had proved. Over the next couple of days she’d done some essential housework, with her favourite music on as loud as she dared, given the considerable thickness of the walls between her and the cottages on either side, taken Sammy out several times without incident, ordered a couple of books of local walks online, and spent a long while looking at the twins’ latest blog instalment, complete with about three hundred photographs, many of bare sweeps of outback with tiny kangaroos just visible in the far distance. Artemis and Apollo proved to be a splendid distraction from any negative thoughts. Now thoroughly at home, they were vocal and entertaining companions, each with their own strong and demanding personality. Their mother had obviously trained them well, not only in the basics, but in getting their own way by being impossibly cute. Already they seemed bigger and more substantial than the two small felines who had cautiously emerged from their cat basket less than a fortnight previously, and it was delightful to fall asleep with them snuggled up trustingly next to her. She loved the feel of warm, living fur against her skin, very different from the cold, dead coney coat that her mother had been so proud of, many years ago.

A small pair of pointed blue ears poked up above the side of the bath. Jenna waited expectantly: the kittens were at once fascinated and horrified by water, and foamy water was particularly intriguing. After a moment, the rest of Apollo scrabbled up the sheer plastic and arrived on the rim. He surveyed Jenna with interest, and then turned his attention to the bubbles just below. With rather less fuss and noise, though she was considerably smaller than her brother, Artemis appeared beside him. At once, she batted at the foam, getting a big mass of suds on her paw. Obviously alarmed, she shook it, then licked it. The expression of absolute disgust on her face was so comical that Jenna laughed aloud. “I thought you were supposed to be the clever one?” she told the kitten. “You did that yesterday too, with exactly the same result.”

Obviously offended, Artemis jumped back onto the floor and began to wash. Apollo stayed, his golden eyes gleaming with curiosity. Jenna gave in to a sudden mischievous impulse, lifted a foot just above the foam and moved her big toe from side to side. At once, the kitten fixed his gaze on this new plaything. He lowered his head, waggled his bottom and then, before Jenna could stop him, launched himself enthusiastically into space and plummeted with a loud splash into the suds.

Rather later, when Apollo had been wrapped up in a towel and dried off, and Jenna had finished apologising to him, and they were all sitting on the sofa watching a cosy and undemanding Sunday evening drama series, her phone rang again. This time she had it beside her, and answered it on the second cuckoo. “Hello?”

“Oh, good, Jennifer, you are there. I was worried about you when I got no reply earlier.”

Jenna made a face at Apollo, who was staring accusingly at her. “If I get double pneumonia,” his glare seemed to be saying, “it’ll be entirely your fault.”

“Sorry, Mum, I was in the bath,” she explained.

“Ah. I see. Well, I was just phoning to tell you that I can’t come to you next week after all, I’m afraid.” There was a pause, in which Jenna wondered what could be more important than her visit to Orford – hair appointment? Bridge tournament? Conservative Club do? – and then her mother said, with a note of considerable satisfaction, even smugness, “I’m going on a cruise.”

“A cruise?” Jenna couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice. “Wow, that’s ... amazing. Lucky you. What prompted that?”

“A friend booked it months ago, but the woman she was going with dropped out – she’s fallen and broken her hip. So Sandra asked me if I would like to come along, and of course I couldn’t miss an opportunity like that.” For once, her mother seemed enthused, even cheerful. “Very sad for poor Joan, of course, but it can’t be helped. We’re sailing from Southampton on Friday, and I’ll be away for more than three weeks.”

“That’s fabulous,” said Jenna. “Where are you going?”

“To the Caribbean. Barbados, Antigua, Grenada, St. Kitts – and Madeira on the way home. It’s a round trip, so there’s no flying, thank goodness.” Patricia never flew if she could avoid it. “Not cheap, of course, we’re sharing a balcony cabin, but I felt I could afford the expense.”

Jenna remembered that May’s flat had sold just before Christmas, so her mother would soon receive the proceeds. “Well, I’m really pleased for you,” she said, and meant it. “You deserve a good break. Are you going to buy some new clothes?”

She put her phone down a while later feeling as if some new record had been set. A fifteen minute phone call from her mother that had been entirely positive was a rarity, to say the least. Perhaps now, with Nanna May’s money giving her the lifelong financial security she had always craved, she could relax and enjoy herself a little more. And, if Jenna was honest with herself, need her daughter a little less.

The next day saw the start of school and university terms everywhere, a new beginning in the new year, and the start also of Jenna’s search for a job. She had spent some time constructing a basic CV, and after breakfast set off for Aldeburgh library. It took only a couple of moments to join up: she selected several books on CVs and interview techniques, and then, succumbing to temptation, sat down at one of the computers and went on the Ancestry website.

Months ago, a lifetime ago, before she’d ever heard of Madison Gibbs, she’d discovered that her great-great grandmother, Emily Taylor, had been born at Layer Marney in Essex. She’d found the date of her marriage, and sent off for the certificate. By the time it had arrived, her own marriage was in ruins and she hadn’t had the time or the inclination to do more than give it a cursory glance and put it into the folder reserved for her genealogical discoveries. Only this morning, on her way out of the house, she’d remembered it and gone back for the envelope from the Registry Office. She took it out again, and looked at it properly.

It recorded the marriage, in January 1881, of James Durrant, aged 22, bachelor and grocer, of Tottenham, and Emily Taylor, spinster and shop assistant, likewise of Tottenham. His father was deceased: hers was named as Joseph Ezekiel Taylor, brewer.

“Bingo!” Jenna said to herself. There were bound to be many Joseph Taylors, but she was willing to bet that Joseph Ezekiel Taylor, probably living somewhere in Essex, would be a one-off. She typed his name into the search box, and watched the alternatives come up. As she had hoped, right at the top, above all the Joseph Williams, Joseph Johns and Joseph Samuels, was a single Joseph Ezekiel Taylor. A comprehensive trawl through all the references gave her his date of birth, 5th October 1839, his baptism, his appearance in every census until his death in 1897, and his marriage, in 1861, to Emily Maria Merielina Tydeman.

It was the right family. It had to be, although her third Christian name was spelt slightly differently. What’s one letter between ancestors? Jenna thought, feeling ridiculously elated. She’d made it back another generation, to her three-greats grandmother. And Tydeman wasn’t a common name. She searched for Emily Maria Merielina, and found that she’d been born in Colchester in 1840. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for three years: the railways were beginning to snake out across the countryside: Oliver Twist had just been published: the Bronte sisters were in their early twenties. She had always considered the nineteenth century to be something that belonged in a historical novel or in a Dickens adaptation. But her ancestors had lived then, had worn crinolines and top hats, had talked about exciting modern inventions like the steam engine or gas lighting, had read The Times or Punch. The past might have been another country, but it was their country.

She found the right reference for Emily Maria Merielina’s birth, and ordered her certificate. Her session had been so absorbing that it was a surprise to see that it would end in a few minutes. She emailed all her discoveries to herself, and logged off. Outside, the sun was shining feebly, and she didn’t feel like going home yet. It was a while since she’d had a good browse in Aldeburgh, and she needed milk and bread. She put her borrowed books into the car, drove down into the town and parked in a small square just off the sea front.

The sun was deceptive: it sparkled coldly off the blue-grey, choppy water, whipped up by a bone-chilling east wind. Jenna pulled her knitted hat down over her ears, wrapped a matching scarf securely round her neck, and buttoned up her thick winter coat. The houses on the High Street offered some protection, but it wasn’t the weather for window-shopping, and there weren’t many people about. She found a tiny recruitment agency, and noted its details so that she could send them her CV, when it was honed and polished. Though probably they’d look at her almost total lack of experience in any commercial field, have a good laugh and put it in the bin.

I refuse to be despondent, Jenna told herself firmly. She had so much to be thankful for. She was free of her cheating, controlling husband, she had a lovely place to live, loyal and loving friends, three brilliant children and two feline fiends at home. If the only work she could find was cleaning pub toilets, then so be it – at least it’d keep Artemis and Apollo in cat food.

A display in the window of a craft shop caught her eye, and she stopped to look. They were beautiful close-up photographs of objects that had evidently been washed up on the beach. Some were natural – seaweed, shells, interestingly coloured pebbles – and some, worn wood or frayed rope or a battered lobster pot, man-made. On an impulse, she went in. It was out of the wind, and if the prints weren’t too expensive, one of them would look lovely in the bathroom, which she planned to have a nautical theme.

There wasn’t anyone in the shop, but she could hear someone talking on the phone in the back room. “I’m really sorry to hear that, Melanie.” The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it until, after a brief silence, he added, “No, of course not, it can’t be helped. Don’t worry, you concentrate on getting better.” There was another pause, then, “That’s OK. Goodbye, Mel. Goodbye, and take care.” The phone went down with a click, and Andrew Marshall said with considerable feeling, “Oh, bugger.”

“Hello.” Jenna peered over the counter and saw her New Year guest through the doorway behind. He gave a considerable start when he noticed her, and then, recovering his manners, came out to greet her. “Hello, Jenna. Many apologies for the language just now, but I didn’t realise you were there.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Jenna grinned at him. “I didn’t know you had a shop.”

“Not for much longer, if things keep going the way they are,” said Andrew gloomily. “That was my assistant on the phone. She's in hospital with appendicitis, would you believe, and she’s going to be out of action for at least six weeks.”

This was definitely a most fortuitous coincidence. Jenna said cautiously, “Does that mean you’re looking for a temporary replacement?”

Despite his bumbling manner, there were no flies on Andrew Marshall. “Are you offering?” he demanded eagerly. “I remember Ruth telling me you were job-hunting, but of course then I didn’t know that Melanie would get appendicitis. Four days a week, ten till four, minimum wage? Do you have any experience of shop work?” he added, belatedly.

“Actually I do, a little,” Jenna told him. “My friend Saskia – she was at the party – she has a vintage clothes shop in St. Albans, and I’ve helped out occasionally. I know how to use a card machine and a cash register, and how to be friendly and helpful without hassling people, and I’ve had a go at making nice displays. But things like stock replenishment are a total mystery, I’m afraid.”

“That’s my department,” said Andrew. “Vintage clothes, eh? I’ve toyed with the idea – I started out in antiques, many moons ago, before I switched to crafts. I knew a bloke who took old pieces of furniture and turned them into ‘shabby chic’, and they did so well I abandoned antiques altogether – much less hit and miss. And this part of Suffolk is absolutely heaving with gifted potters, painters, photographers, weavers, knitters, you name it.”

“You’ve certainly got some absolutely gorgeous things,” Jenna said, looking round. She wasn’t entirely sure about the metal structures that might represent birds, or the sludge-coloured felt hats, but most of his stock was urgently screaming, ‘Buy me!’ She would just have to get used to the fact that it was no longer possible to fill her house with expensive beauties that she wanted but didn’t actually need.

“Thank you, Jenna. I’d like to think so too. Unfortunately, this place is usually so dead after December that I can only just keep it going. It survives on the Christmas and summer trade – which, thank God, is usually extremely brisk. Would you like a coffee and a look round? I’m not forcing you, you know,” he continued anxiously. “If you get cold feet, just tell me straight away and I’ll try and get someone else.”

“I’m sure I won’t,” Jenna assured him. “And this seems as if it’ll be a lovely place to work.”

“Thank you, I do my best. Shall I put the kettle on, then?”

“That would be great, thanks. It’s bloody cold out there.”

“Nothing between you and the Urals,” said Andrew, and Jenna laughed. “Ruth says that.”

“Well, it’s true. Not a lot between you and Siberia, either. Have a browse while I make the coffee.”

By the time he reappeared with two steaming and fragrant cups, she had looked through all the photographs and chosen a picture of a piece of driftwood that had been softly sculptured by the sea. The unframed ones were very reasonably priced, so she didn’t feel as if she’d been too extravagant – and anyway, if she was going to be working here for a few weeks, she could afford the occasional tenner. She put it on the counter, and Andrew beamed. “Excellent choice. They’re good, aren’t they?”

“The window display got me in here. Who’s the photographer?”

“Claire Stephens - she lives up the coast near Dunwich. They’re real photos, you know, none of your digital computer-enhanced fakery. She has a proper old-fashioned camera with proper old-fashioned film, and she processes them herself. As you might have guessed,” Andrew went on, offering her a sugar bowl, which she declined, “I’m something of a Luddite at heart.”

“Well, it’s not such a big step from antiques to crafts, is it?” Jenna sipped at her coffee, which was the real thing as opposed to instant, and delicious. “Old things made with care and love, and new things made with care and love.”

“Yes, you’re right, I hadn’t thought of it like that. So, how are you finding life in Orford? Does it live up to your expectations, after the bright lights and the big city?”

“St. Albans may be a city, but it’s not exactly big, and the lights aren’t very bright either. I’m not a city person at all, really. I love it here, always have. And I can see a future, and it’s starting to look good, which it didn’t before.” Andrew was very easy to talk to, and Jenna realised that she’d be giving him her life story if she wasn’t careful. “And if you’re really serious about offering me a job, that’s even better. I don’t mind if it’s only for a few weeks, it’ll get me started, and it’ll be something to put on my CV.”

“Of course I’m serious! I’m never not serious!” He winked at her, which rather gave his statement the lie. Today he was wearing a powder blue cable pullover over a plain white shirt, dark blue trousers and another bow tie, this time in a pattern of blue and orange dots: she suspected this was his trademark. “Believe me, Jenna, you’re a life-saver. I don’t need to faff about getting references, I know you won’t run off with the takings – not that they’re worth running off with at the moment, you’d get about as far as Woodbridge – and best of all, you’re here.”

“You mean you want me to start now?” said Jenna, giving such a good impression of startled dismay that Andrew was briefly taken in, before he saw her expression and began to laugh. “You had me going for a minute. No, of course not. But can you make Wednesday to Saturday next week?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Jenna, silently thanking her mother for deciding on the cruise rather than staying with her. She suspected that Patricia would probably have had some trenchant comments on how her daughter was wasting her education by working in a shop.

“That’s fabulous! Thank you so much!” Andrew beamed at her over his coffee mug, which stated ‘Keep calm and stay crafty’ on the side. “Now, do tell me, we didn’t really get the chance to talk about it the other night – lovely party, by the way, thoroughly enjoyed myself and so did Jim – how’s your genealogy getting along?”

“OK, sort of,” said Jenna cautiously. “I spent some time in the library this morning, and I managed to take it back another generation – to my three greats grandmother. So I’ve ordered her birth certificate, and that should give me the info I need to find out about her mother.”

Andrew was looking at her curiously. “So are you just interested in one part of your family, then?”

“Umm...” Jenna didn’t really want to tell him about the casket: she suspected that Andrew might not be particularly good at keeping secrets, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea for half of Aldeburgh and Orford to know that she had something worth many thousands of pounds lurking in her wardrobe. Later, when she’d got to know him better, she might confide in him, but for now she preferred to keep the casket a secret that as few people knew as possible.

“There’s a name that keeps cropping up,” she said, suddenly visited by inspiration. “Merelina, or Merielina. I think it must be a family name, and I thought I’d research it back and see where it comes from.”

“That’s interesting,” Andrew said. “Sometimes those names go on for generations. Lots of the men in my family are called William, and my mother always said that we were descended from William Marshall.”

He was obviously about to launch into an explanation, and with a grin, Jenna forestalled him. “The ‘best knight that ever lived’?”

“You’ve actually heard of him!” Andrew seemed astonished.

“Well, I do have a degree in mediaeval history.”

Do you now?” He looked at her with even more respect. “So you’re quite at home beavering away amongst old documents.”

“Except when they’re written in Norman French. Or mediaeval Latin. Or, indeed, Middle English. It’s a relief to find clear handwriting and a language I can easily understand.” She looked at him. “But perhaps your mother was mistaken – wasn’t William Marshall cursed by some Irish bishop who told him that his sons would have no children? And they didn’t – though he did have lots of daughters, I seem to remember.”

“He certainly did, but you’re right, no children by his sons – so I fear my dear old mum was indeed mistaken. And given that he lived about eight hundred years ago, I suspect that most of the population are descended from him by now. Still, it makes a good story.”

They chatted on for a while, and then two customers came into the shop. Jenna said goodbye, arranged to call him later to confirm and give him her details, and went out into the cold High Street. It had clouded over, and a couple of tiny flakes of snow, or frozen rain, landed on her coat. She’d browse the shops another day: for now, she was looking forward to home, and her warm stove and cuddly cats and a nice hot lunch of soup and bread.

As she got into the car, her phone made its usual cuckoo noise. The joke was starting to wear thin: she must ask Rosie how to change it to something more conventional. She hastily fished it out of her bag. “Hello?”

“Jenna! It’s Fran. Look, could you drop in sometime this afternoon? If it’s not inconvenient, of course.”

“No, that’s fine – in fact, I’m in Aldeburgh at the moment, so why don’t I stop at yours on the way home? I can be there in about fifteen minutes or so.”

“Really?” He sounded as if a considerable weight had been removed from his shoulders. “Are you sure that’s OK?”

“Course I’m sure. What’s it about?”

“I’ve got a wee problem,” Fran said. “And I’m hoping you might be able to help.”

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